In most of the US, movie theaters are reopening — but dismal box office numbers have revealed that most Americans aren’t rushing back, even with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet trying to lure them in.
Thankfully there’s plenty to watch at home, both old and new. I’m always amazed by the vast cornucopia of entertainment available on streaming, from classics to new releases to underappreciated gems. So here are my picks from six streaming services — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney+, and the Criterion Channel — worth checking out this weekend.
On Netflix: A peek into how the internet is trying to hack our brains
The Social Dilemma is a new documentary about social media, and to be perfectly honest, it sounds like it ought to be a preachy snorefest. But this film sidesteps a boring lecture by focusing on the way algorithms learn and predict our behavior, and the great ripple effect they have on what we do and what we think.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, The Social Dilemma features interviews with a host of former executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, and more, all of whom seem uneasy about their involvement in creating the world we live in now. But The Social Dilemma doesn’t stop there, injecting a bit of weirdness into the mix via fictional interstitial scenes about a family (including teens played by Booksmart’s Skyler Gisondo and Moonrise Kingdom’s Kara Hayward) who’s struggling with social media’s place in their lives, and three Vincent Kartheisers (a.k.a. Mad Men’s Pete Campbell) as a trio of devious algorithms trying to get inside their heads.
You might like The Social Dilemma if: you’re feeling uneasy about social media but don’t want a sermon about it.
Or for something a little different on Netflix ...
Try the new film The Devil All the Time, a messy but interesting attempt at a Southern Gothic drama with a star-studded cast: Tom Holland, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska, Mia Goth, Harry Melling, Bill Skarsgård, and the always-excellent Robert Pattinson as a degraded, predatory preacher. There’s lots of darkness, murder, corruption, sex pests, bad religion, and bad men, and also a lot of great acting.
On Hulu: Laugh — and grimace — about women living in a man’s world
The title of Support the Girls, writer and director Andrew Bujalski’s extraordinary 2018 film, is a barely concealed double entendre. The film is set in an even less coy Hooters-style bar called Double Whammies; every day, the waitresses — pretty girls in crop tops and cutoffs — serve beer and wings to the mostly male clientele, though Double Whammies insists it’s a family-friendly “mainstream” place.
But Support the Girls is not at all the winkingly misogynist raunch-com for dudes that its set-up might imply. Starting out as a workplace comedy featuring a sparkling female ensemble, the movie — which unfolds mostly over a single day — morphs into an affecting, startlingly insightful depiction of the bone-weary work of being a woman in a man’s world. The cast includes Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, James LeGros, and Shayna McHale, a.k.a. the rapper Junglepussy.
You might like Support the Girls if: you’re feeling frustrated about the world, and could use some good company.
Or for something a little different on Hulu ...
Try Tyrel, another dark 2018 comedy, this one about a young Black man named Tyler (played by Jason Mitchell, who portrayed Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton). Tyler travels to the Catskills with his all-white group of buddies, and the results aren’t quite on the level of Get Out, but the trip does turn into a kind of panicky horror film for him. The movie boasts a cast that includes Michael Cera, Christopher Abbott, Caleb Landry Jones, and Ann Dowd.
On Amazon Prime video: Dip into an epic romance about early 20th-century activists, intellectuals, and artists
Warren Beatty co-wrote, directed, and starred in Reds, a sweeping 1981 drama about real-life journalist John Reed, who in 1919 published his chronicle of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World. It’s a long movie (three hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission), but it goes by fast, telling the story of Reed and socialite-turned-journalist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), who leaves her husband to be with Reed and, from there, joins an intellectual community that finds itself fomenting — and fighting about — revolution. The cast also features Maureen Stapleton as activist Emma Goldman and Jack Nicholson as playwright Eugene O’Neill.
You might like Reds if: you’re ready to be swept up in a world of passionate, determined, witty people who believe with all their heart in their cause.
Or for something a little different on Amazon Prime Video ...
Midsommar was one of the most talked-about films of 2019, a tale of dread and triumph from Hereditary director Ari Aster. (And my explanation of the film’s ending has remained one of my most-read pieces for more than a year, which suggests a lot of people are interested in this movie.) If you haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance — and if you fell in love with its star, Florence Pugh, when she played Amy in 2019’s Little Women, it’s a great showcase for another side of her talent.
On HBO Max: Finally watch — or revisit — a true (and truly enjoyable) masterpiece
Ask any group of people to name the greatest American film, and at least a few will say Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’s 1941 magnum opus about a wealthy demagogue named Charles Foster Kane, who’s haunted by the memory of a mysterious “Rosebud.” (If you don’t already know what Rosebud turns out to be, I’m certainly not going to spoil it for you now.) Citizen Kane is not just a masterpiece, though; it’s also a very funny, brilliantly acted, more-relevant-than-ever movie about media-obsessed men who manipulate the world to mirror their own image and are driven by an intense need to be loved by all.
You might like Citizen Kane if: you’re ready to laugh, rage, gulp, and be reminded that there is nothing new under the sun.
Or for something a little different on HBO Max ...
Class Action Park is a wild ride of a documentary about Action Park, an amusement and water park in Vernon, New Jersey, that became notorious for its intensely unsafe rides and no-rules atmosphere. Through archival footage of the park and interviews with former patrons, employees, and eventually victims (including the family of a young man who died after a tragic accident there), the movie tells the tale of the park with both nostalgia and an air of warning.
On Disney+: Get nostalgic with a classic ’90s sports film
Travel back to 1992, when The Mighty Ducks first hit the big screen and spawned not just a series of sequels (which are also streaming on Disney+) but an actual pro hockey team. Emilio Estevez stars as a high-powered defense attorney who is sentenced to community service after getting arrested on a drunk driving charge and ends up coaching a terrible Pee-Wee hockey team. It’s truly a classic sports film, and revisiting it is nothing but fun.
You might like The Mighty Ducks if: you’re feeling up for a rousing, inspiring, and just-corny-enough sports film.
Or for something a little different on Disney+ ...
Have you watched Hamilton yet? If not, it’s time. The filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s founding fathers musical took Broadway by storm and has sparked debate ever since. And if you’ve already watched Hamilton, there’s no better time than the present to watch it again.
Criterion Channel: Feel some feels with a gentle, queer coming-of-age story
One of the best films of 2017 was Princess Cyd, a modest but moving coming-of-age story. Director Stephen Cone is a master of small, carefully realized filmmaking; his earlier films such as The Wise Kids and Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (both of which are also streaming on the Criterion Channel this month) combine an unusual level of empathy for his characters with an unusual assortment of interests: love, desire, sexual awakenings, and religion.
Princess Cyd is his most accomplished film to date, about a young woman named Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) who finds herself attracted to a barista named Katie (Malic White) while visiting her Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence, playing a character modeled on the author Marilynne Robinson) in Chicago. As she works through her own sexual desire for Katie, Cyd unwinds some of the ways Miranda’s life has gotten too safe. They provoke each other while forming a bond and being prodded toward a larger understanding of the world. Princess Cyd is a graceful and honest film, and it feels like a modest miracle.
You might like Princess Cyd if: you want a thoughtful, quiet movie about people finding their way toward their fullest selves.
Or for something a little different on the Criterion Channel ...
Olivia de Havilland — who died in July at the age of 104 — turned in one of her finest performances in William Wyler’s 1949 film The Heiress, a devastating costume drama about a scorned woman. Havilland plays Catherine, the daughter of a cruel but wealthy man; she falls in love with Morris (Montgomery Clift), who seems to return her affection. But when her father forbids her to marry Morris, their relationship changes, and Havilland’s performance turns on a dime. It’s an extraordinary, brilliant film.